If you’re not from the South, or more particularly, the country, you may not be familiar with a switch. A switch is a branch of a tree — most commonly, a hickory tree (or “hick-rey,” as we call it down here). It is a flexible, but sturdy rod, if you will, that delivers a stinging, burning lash when controlled by an angry parent. Where I come from, if your mama raised you right, she threatened you at least weekly with the elusive hickrey switch, and if necessary, she left a mark on your legs with it.
My mother loved to threaten a switching. She was, no doubt, traumatized from all the times she was forced to fetch her own hickrey, then, take a lashing on her bare legs from her skirt hem to her white lace socks and saddle shoes.
Naturally, I was mystified by the concept, so one day, she demonstrated to me the power of the hickrey switch. She took me in the yard, and we walked by each and every tree, until she came to one that she felt was suitable for this specific life lesson. She found a thin, bendable branch, and she ripped it right off the tree. She took her manicured hand and slid it down the branch, taking all of the leaves and twigs with it, and then she flipped her wrist, and let that switch fly. I flinched when I heard it snap back, and it didn’t take me long to realize that it would leave a lasting mark if it made contact with my skinny legs.
I was horrified. Even in the 70s, the whole process seemed brutal and inhumane. But it wasn’t uncommon. I had friends who were forced to wear jeans in August in North Carolina, because their legs were covered in welts from a missed curfew switching.
I knew better than to ever go far enough to find myself searching for a hickrey.
As I sit here considering the news of the last few months, I can’t help but wonder: did trees stop growing switches?
Today, a bus driver stabbed. Yesterday, a gang-related shooting at a middle school. Wednesday, a shooting at an office complex. Tuesday, a 5-year old kidnapped and forced into a bunker. A family murdered by a teenage son. 20 first grade students executed. 12 people killed watching Batman at a movie theater.
I don’t care why these things happened. I am not interested in what you think about gun control, mental illness, poverty, white male entitlement, post-traumatic stress syndrome, gangs. I have no interest in debating with you the reasons that our country has landed in the shadow of the valley of death. The truth is, I fear evil. But apparently, no one else does.
What was supposed to be the greatest country in the world has become nothing more than an oversized playpen for spoiled, petulant brats who don’t understand and certainly don’t consider consequences.
Bad people have always existed, and bad things have always happened, but we used to care. Now, we shake our heads and furrow our brows. We have conversations instead of repercussions. We encourage our children to express themselves, instead of impressing upon them the very real necessity of limitations on that expression. We challenge authority because we don’t want to be controlled, instead of standing up for what we believe in and taking control of our streets, our schools, our homes.
I am so sick of it.
I don’t care if the kid who shot another kid yesterday comes from a single parent house and lives in poverty. I don’t care if the man in the bunker has post-traumatic stress syndrome from fighting in a war. I don’t care if Adam Lanza had Asperger’s Syndrome and a crazy mother who ignored the warning signs.
I don’t care, because it’s no excuse. Millions of people live in poverty; millions of people cope with pain, deal with loss, battle mental illness. And they still manage to possess enough human decency to value someone else’s life.
I want to plant a hickory tree. And I want it to grow the biggest, baddest switches ever. And then I want to start using them. I want to leave marks all over the place until we reach the point of reason again. When people knew better. When people acted better. When people taught better. When people lived better.